Leipzig Missionswerk and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Russia #2 Relationship between the ARA and the Soviet government

Continuation of: Leipzig Leipzig Missionswerk and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Russia #1 Teutonic Livonia, Russian civil war and poverty

Head and shoulders portrait of Fridtjof Nansen, facing half-right. He has close-cropped hair, a wide, fair moustache and is wearing a heavy fur coat.

Fridtjof Wedel-Jarlsberg Nansen, Norwegian explorer, oceanographer, statesman, and humanitarian who led a number of expeditions to the Arctic (1888, 1893, 1895–96) and oceanographic expeditions in the North Atlantic (1900, 1910–14). For his relief work after World War I he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace (1922).

While Meier’s original plan of relief would ultimately not be enacted, in time his idea of providing regular support for pastors and their families would. Meanwhile, his password soon began to bear fruit, as he received Pastorenhilfe from the Norwegian explorer, oceanographer, statesman, and humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen, later that summer. Russians had long admired Nansen, and this allowed him to assist through his aid organisation, Nansenhilfe. But despite his fame, he still was not able to create a path for the NLC to enter Russia. Writing to NLC Secretary Lauritz Larsen earlier in April, Nansen informed him that he had perhaps promised too much when he said that he would negotiate

In 1921 the American relief commission nonetheless began distribution of food that saved countless Russians from starvation.

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics came into existence on December 30, 1922. In the World War and Civil War, Russia had lost Poland, Finland, the Baltic states, and Bessarabia. The Communist government had survived, but the Revolution had failed to spread. Hence, the Bolshevik leaders were left to construct a permanent relationship to an outer world that they defined as implacably hostile. The Western powers, in turn, faced the challenge of living with a Great Power that repudiated, at least publicly, all norms of international behaviour.

Coat of arms of the Soviet Union (1956–1991).svgBy early 1923, the relationship between the ARA and the Soviet government had grown colder. The Soviets had been issuing new demands that the Americans pay for the housing of its personnel in Moscow and that it pay for Russian employees of the ARA.

When the ARA’s Cyril Quinn quoted the Riga Agreement, (a treaty between Poland and Russia), Karl Lander didn’t contradict him but stated that the Soviet government didn’t have the money for these expenses. Local Soviet officials felt even more emboldened by the central government. Pressure and interference were increasingly being placed on the pastors involved in food and clothing distribution. Morehead noted how the Soviets called for the pastors’ removal from distribution of food and clothing although the cooperative agency of most of the Lutheran church bodies in the United States, established in 1918, the National Lutheran Council (NLC) trusted them and wanted to give moral support to the role of the Lutheran Church in the community. Oftentimes, excuses were fabricated to get control of the distribution. For example, in Simferopol, the city that lies along the Salhyr (Salgir) River in the Crimea, the Soviet representative complained that the NLC only fed Lutherans in the villages. When Lander’s office brought this accusation to the ARA’s attention, W. L. Scheding explained to ARA official Philip Matthews that, first, the NLC often worked in villages that were 100 percent Lutheran.

When founded in 1918, the purposes of the NLC were to coordinate activities and agencies of the member bodies, provide statistical information, engage in publicity and public relations, and provide overseas relief to Lutherans affected by World War I.

Second, since the NLC received its support from Lutherans in America, naturally they would feed Lutherans. But whenever there were non-Lutherans in a village, they would never neglect to feed them, too. It seemed obvious that the Soviets were more interested in controlling the NLC feeding program than in ensuring fairness in the distribution.

Superintendent Meier further related that the Soviets were not averse to harassing and exerting physical pressure on the church. Rough Communist types and government employees would gather in the courtyard of his church and see how the distribution was being carried out, undoubtedly looking for some fault. At other times, crowds of young men would shout vile remarks from the courtyard toward the church during services, even throwing objects into the church building as well as at Meier. In response to these physical and verbal assaults, the police would do nothing.

Since Meier’s sister, Tilly (Mathilda), was primarily employed in the distribution of the goods, the pastor asked Scheding to intercede with the ARA in finding a different distribution point. As a result, Scheding would seek a room for distribution in the ARA building, while Tilly Meier would become an official ARA employee on February 27th.

In March, Scheding would give details to Morehead about the Soviet harassment, which included a demand for bribes from relief workers. President Schilling of the Odessa Synod, for example, was ordered to give 20 percent of the food delivery to the government. When Scheding arrived, he refused to pay a bribe. But on reflection, he reconsidered his refusal, realizing that his action would bring down the law on Schilling.

To be continued


2 thoughts on “Leipzig Missionswerk and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Russia #2 Relationship between the ARA and the Soviet government

  1. Pingback: Leipzig Missionswerk and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Russia #3 Soviet Lutheran Church in 1926 | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  2. Pingback: Leipzig Missionswerk and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Russia #4 New possibilities opening when Soviet state proclaimed freedom of religion and atheism | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

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